Changes in hormones can wreak havoc on your health. Hormones are complicated, and they require a delicate balance to keep you looking and feeling great. Hormonal imbalances happen to us all. In fact, they’re a natural part of the aging process. But this doesn’t make the experience any less frustrating. Depending upon the severity of a hormonal imbalance, the experience can be downright debilitating. Let’s take a closer look at hormonal imbalances, and learn what you can do when they happen.
What are hormones?
You can think of your body’s hormones as chemical messengers. The endocrine glands produce your hormones, which travel around the bloodstream, giving orders to all the organs and tissues of your body. They’re the communicators that control reproduction and metabolism. They also impact stress levels. As you can see, hormones are very important, and balancing them is a necessity for us all.
What are hormonal imbalances?
Your hormones all have their own role to play in the body. If you have too much of one or too little of another, things can easily get off kilter. Even the smallest changes in this delicate balance of hormones can impact our bodies and minds in a major way. In some cases, an abundance of one hormone can lead to low levels of another, impacting bodily processes even more. So, it’s important to understand the causes and symptoms of hormonal imbalances so that you can take action sooner rather than later.
What causes hormonal imbalances for men and women?
Causes of hormonal imbalances run the gamut from lifestyle factors to autoimmune disorders, and it all depends upon which hormones are out of whack. Here are some of the most common reasons for hormonal imbalances in both men and women:
- You have diabetes or prediabetes
- You’re overweight or obese
- Your stress levels are through the roof
- You have a thyroid disorder
- You have a benign or cancerous tumor growth
- You have an eating disorder
- You’re taking pharmaceutical medications
- Your adrenals are shot
- You’ve had hormone therapy
- You’ve gone through cancer treatment
- You’ve experienced an injury or any type of trauma
- You have a pituitary tumor
- You’ve experienced repeated injuries, such as those caused by competitive sports
- Your diet is unhealthy
- Your environment is particularly toxic
What are common symptoms of hormonal imbalances in men and women?
The following symptoms also depend upon which hormones are out of balance. Because we have so many hormones, the symptoms listed here vary widely, too. These symptoms can happen to both men and women. They are:
- Frequent bowel movements or the opposite (constipation)
- Urinating more than usual
- Inability to lose weight and the ability to easily gain weight
- Mood swings
- Insomnia and sleep issues
- Anxiety and stress
- An increase in thirst and hunger
- Drier skin than usual (and not just during the winter)
- A puffy, swollen face
- Unusual sweating
- Low libido
- Aches and pains in the bones and joints
- Weakening of the muscles and joints
- An increase in heart rate
- A decrease in heart rate
- Blurry vision
- A hump that appears between your shoulders
What causes hormonal imbalances in men?
For men, it’s all about testosterone. If you’re not making enough testosterone, all hormones bear the brunt.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in men
While we often discuss how women’s hormones change during various stages of life, men are not immune to fluctuations in hormones. Common symptoms of hormonal imbalances in men include:
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Low libido
- Decrease in muscle mass
- Lack of focus and concentration
- Facial and body hair growth decreases
- Breast tissue becomes tender and you even develop more breast mass
- Decrease in bone mass (osteoporosis)
- Hot flashes — yes, men can get hot flashes, too!
What causes hormonal imbalances in women?
When it comes to female hormones, most imbalances happen with the reproductive hormones. Such changes occur because:
- You have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
- You’re pregnant or breastfeeding
- You’re taking birth control
- You have ovarian problems such as primary ovarian insufficiency
- You’re experiencing perimenopause or menopause
Hormones and pregnancy issues
If you’re having trouble getting pregnant, you could very likely have a hormonal imbalance like PCOS. This is one of the most common causes of infertility. PCOS inhibits ovulation, and there can be no baby without an egg. If you do happen to have PCOS, there’s still a chance for a healthy pregnancy. Make sure you’re eating right, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight can interfere with fertility.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women
While hormonal imbalances can happen at any age, the most common and infamous time is during perimenopause, when hormone imbalances are often extreme. However, hormones also go through major changes during puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, perimenopause, and menopause. Here are some of the more common female symptoms of hormonal imbalances:
- Heavy periods
- Missed periods
- Light periods
- Irregular periods
- Too much facial hair
- Loss of hair
- Excessive weight gain
- Inability to lose weight
- Vaginal atrophy
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Skin tags
- Night sweats
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in children
From time to time, hormones get mixed up in children, too — mainly during puberty. For some children, the result is hypogonadism, which is a reduction of hormone secretion of the testes or ovaries. In boys, symptoms show up as:
- Slow or sparse body hair growth
- Deepening of the voice doesn’t happen or takes a while
- Breast tissue develops
- Arms and legs grow excessively when compared to the trunk
- Impaired growth of the penis and testes
- Impaired muscle mass development
In girls, symptoms show up as:
- Impaired breast development
- Impaired overall growth
- Lack of a period
Hormonal imbalances linked to more serious diseases
Because your hormones impact so many tissues and organs in the body, it stands to reason that chronic hormonal imbalances might lead to chronic illness. These are the more serious diseases and problems linked to hormonal imbalances:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Sleep apnea
- Muscle atrophy
- Damage of the kidneys
- Breast cancer
- Endometrial cancer
- Sexual issues
7 best ways to naturally balance your hormones
There are many approaches you can take to help balance your hormones. Here are 7 ways men and women can help keep hormones at optimal levels:
Exercise every day
We all know regular exercise is important, but how many of us prioritize it? Exercising daily can help your hormones, especially if you change it up. Different forms of exercise impact hormones in different ways.
Yoga is great for decreasing cortisol levels, while every form of exercise decreases insulin. As you may know, high levels of insulin lead to insulin resistance. And insulin resistance leads to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other inflammatory diseases. Some hormones, testosterone in particular, support muscle mass growth. Many forms of exercise promote testosterone production, which decreases as we age.
Resistance training can help restore a sex steroid hormone in older men, while a combined program of walking and resistance training stimulates human growth hormone in older women. As you can probably guess, growth hormone decreases with age. To balance your hormones with exercise, combine resistance training with long walks, HIIT (high intensity interval training) with yoga, and so on.
Cut out sugar and processed carbohydrates
If we could all cut out the foods that mess with our hormones, we’d be so much better off, in so many ways. Refined sugars and carbs impact hormones for both men and women, and not in a good way! Fructose, weight gain, and insulin resistance go hand in hand. Unfortunately, even healthy sweeteners like honey and pure maple syrup contain fructose. So, you need to watch the healthy sweeteners, too. And consume them only in moderation — especially as you age.
In fact, individuals with prediabetes experience a rise in insulin levels no matter what type of sugar they’re eating. High fructose corn syrup, white sugar, and honey all had a similar, negative impact. Refined carbs, like those found in white breads, crackers, and pretzels aren’t any better. They raise insulin levels as much as the sugary foods do. They also negatively impact our hormones. So, cut back on sugar as much as possible to balance hormones and avoid diabetes, obesity, and other serious diseases.
Maintain a healthy diet
People with eating disorders and poor diets often have seriously imbalanced hormones. Our bodies need a certain amount of essential nutrients to function at an optimal level. Certain vitamin or mineral deficiencies — notably B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids — can contribute to hormone imbalances.
Eating too much or too little can cause problems too. Overeating can obviously lead to weight gain, and increases insulin levels and decreases insulin resistance, even in lean individuals. We may be tempted to reduce our calorie intake if we’re trying to lose weight, but this can backfire. Low-calorie diets may increase cortisol levels, which leads to weight gain, particularly in the midsection.
We all have a calorie range that’s ideal for our bodies. It’s important to stay within that range to keep hormones balanced.
Eat good fats and good proteins
We also need to make sure we’re eating good sources of fats and proteins. These foods promote hormonal health. Healthy fats are really good for insulin. Medium-chain triglycerides, like the ones found in coconut oil, help reduce insulin resistance in diabetics and overweight people.
Then, there’s the protein factor. Protein is important for the growth of healthy tissues throughout the body as well as hormone levels, but you don’t want to eat too much. Try to aim for the recommended daily amount. For men, that’s 55 grams per day, and for women, it’s 46 grams. If you eat meat, you’re likely getting way more protein than this.
Research shows that a high-protein breakfast reduces cravings and snacking because it helps keep the hunger hormone ghrelin under control. If you’re eating a high-carb breakfast — such as cereal, oatmeal, waffles, pancakes, muffins, etc. — try switching to one that’s higher in protein, such as an omelette or these spinach and goat cheese egg muffins that you can eat on the go.
Sources of protein matter, too. Steer clear of low-quality factory farmed meats. Choose grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and wild-caught salmon whenever possible.
Stress is a modern day epidemic, and it wrecks your hormone balance when it’s chronic. The two hormones that bear the brunt of stress are cortisol and adrenaline. When we’re always stressed out, cortisol remains chronically high, which often leads to weight gain, especially belly fat. To ensure your cortisol remains balanced, seek out stress-relieving therapies like yoga, meditation, massage, exercise, and spending time in nature.
Get quality sleep
You probably know that high-quality sleep is essential for good health. Ever notice how off you feel after a restless night? The older you get, the more sleep plays a crucial role in feeling good. The “off” feelings after a bad night are your hormones at play. They require deep rest to do their jobs. Truly restorative sleep may be the most essential element in hormonal balance because so many hormones reap the benefits of good sleep. Cortisol, insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and growth hormone all need restorative sleep to function optimally.
Research shows that men who slept for less than 5 hours per night experienced a 20% decrease in insulin sensitivity. Many studies show how shift workers and others who lack high-quality sleep are more prone to diabetes and obesity. Uninterrupted sleep is the best kind of sleep. If you’re a new mom, this might be a fantasy, but with time, it’s a necessary goal. If you tend to wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, stop drinking liquids a couple of hours before bedtime. For most people, 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep checks all hormonal boxes.
Hormones are a tricky thing. Striking that delicate balance takes effort. But, if you don’t take care of your hormones, they’ll sabotage your health. So, feed them with good sleep, good diet, and stress-relieving techniques to ensure they send the right messages to all your organs and tissues.
At OB/GYN Associates of Alabama, we can help you understand hormone imbalances, and the range of treatment options available. Contact us to request an appointment today.